A considerable effort and little return; this is the summary of the ruling National Democratic Party’s (NDP) annual conference, which ended yesterday.
This is not the first conference for which some NDP leaders exert great effort in preparation. This has frequently happened since the policy of reform in the party was initiated in 2002, the same year in which the role of the president’s son, Gamal Mubarak, was brought to the forefront.
The great efforts are not confined to the organization of the conference and well-prepared media campaigns; the topics on the agenda are carefully put together. Working papers and seminars are prepared in advance, with something new, one way or another.
The media campaigns, which preceded the conference, aim at creating a platform sought by the party – a platform based on the development it went through and its actual role that has turned from following the government to making policies, most of which the government adopts.
However, these efforts seem to only have the capability to make small political gains at the grassroots level. Response to the NDP conference as well as its various activities is still minute, or even non-existent.
It is astonishing that the party leaders, including those who play the key role in developing and improving its performance, are not aware of this. It is also surprising that at least some of them feel some manifestations of this unpopular response to their efforts, but they do not conclude that these efforts go unheeded.
An example of this unpopular response is Gamal Mubarak’s speech on the eve of the annual conference that the community is resisting change. This was in a meeting on addiction control held by an NDP policy committee two days ahead of the conference.
In his speech at the meeting, Gamal said the party sought to increase taxes on cigarettes, but this was met with stiff resistance from some ministers for fear of consequent social anger.
For him, this demonstrates that the efforts exerted by the party for change are facing resistance from the community. This approach runs counter with the opposition discourse that accuses the ruling party of resisting change.
However, there is a base for this assumption. Egyptian society has already become a conservative one that does not approve of change.
But the NDP policy secretariat has not realized that his ruling party, together with successive governments over a quarter of a century, is responsible for this deadlock.
The bulk of Egyptians have become reluctant to change for two main factors. The first is that the regime’s tendency to freeze the political life since early 1980s has gradually created a growing deadlock in the communal culture.
Three generations at least have risen under this political deadlock and have become part of it. The NDP was the ruler during this period. Although it shared responsibility for the stalemate, the NDP has also been a victim of stagnation like other parties, to the extent that Gamal Mubarak personally is facing enormous difficulties to develop it.
The bulk of the party resists change, because many of its cadres at various levels benefit from maintaining the status quo. When Gamal realizes that his party is the most resistant to the change he aspires to, he might address the problem differently.
The second factor, contributing to the society’s opposition to change, is the fact that most Egyptians do not trust the regime – both the government and the ruling party. The acceptance of any new policy depends on the extent of confidence in its makers and executers. If this confidence is weak, or non-existent, no concurrence to anything new should be expected.
The fact is that many Egyptians are wary of what is new, at a moment when there is a common belief that the wealth-allied power only makes change toward the worse.
This belief implies a great exaggeration of course, but it reflects the image of the current regime, including the NDP, among many Egyptians. The fierce opposition, especially in some private newspapers, contributes to the consolidation of this image.
This is what the ruling NDP leaders, who are involved in the change, should know so as not to waste their efforts in vain. If they want a starting point, they should change the strongly hated faces in the party leadership, whether the businessmen or the bureaucrats. They should also rehabilitate the law.
Before talking about social justice, justice must prevail by ensuring real equality for all people before the law without discrimination.
Dr Waheed Abdel Meguid is an expert at Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies.egic Studies.